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Jordan Clarkson feeling more bonded with Utah Jazz as NBA season restart nears

FILE: Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson (00), shown here celebrating with teammates Royce O’Neale, center, and Donovan Mitchell, said the Jazz have “welcomed me with open arms” since being trading to the team in December 2019.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Despite the four-month hiatus the NBA went through, Jordan Clarkson, the Utah Jazz’s newest addition to the team, is feeling more bonded and comfortable with the team than he was when the season was suspended in March.

Clarkson, who was traded from the Cleveland Cavaliers to Utah in an exchange that closed Dante Exum’s era with the Jazz, was an immediate boon for the Jazz’s lacking second unit. Scoring a combined 48 points off the bench over his first three games was an easy way for him to endear himself to his new teammates, but his easy-going good-vibes attitude quickly made him a team and fan favorite.

“He’s been everything we thought he was going to be these past three games,” Donovan Mitchell said at the time, “and he’s learning all this on the fly and still playing well, and that’s tough to do.”

When the NBA shut down on March 11, the Jazz were just getting into a groove with their rotations, a point in the season that would make anyone feel comfortable, especially a newly added player.

But as things were hitting a peak for the team in terms of chemistry and health, the players were forced into isolation and taken away from the basketball court. Despite the stoppage, Clarkson said that communication helped to keep the rhythm, vibe, and bond of the team intact over the break.

“We hit the ground running and they welcomed me with open arms,” Clarkson said Sunday. “We’ve kept in contact through the whole time, continuing to build.”

In addition to virtual team meetings and workouts, video chats and group texts, Clarkson was part of a group of Jazz players who came together in Los Angeles for a non-NBA sanctioned set of workouts in which players were able to actually get on the court together.

In videos posted to social media on June 17, Clarkson, Mitchell, Royce O’Neale, Rayjon Tucker and Miye Oni were seen on the court together, preparing for the eventual restart of the NBA season.

“We were sitting in the house a lot, wasn’t really seeing gyms,” Clarkson said. “I still had access to one, but a lot of us weren’t seeing other guys, weren’t able to do anything.”

Although players were able to do voluntary individual workouts at the Jazz practice facility, the NBA had not allowed group workouts until teams arrived in Orlando this week. That rule, while followed by teams, was skirted by many in the league who found ways to get together and work. That short amount of time, Clarkson said, was incredibly beneficial.

“Just being able to get out there getting to hoop, being able to play the game that we love, it was great,” he said. “We were working, communicating, just trying to get ready for this time, knowing that the NBA season’s about to start back up.”

That extra communication and time on the court has led Clarkson to his next challenge: preparing for the remaining eight games of the NBA season and the playoffs with a team that will again have to change because of the injury to Bojan Bogdanovic.

Clarkson knows that losing Bogdanovic is big for the Jazz. The Croatian was a 20-point threat every night and added spacing to the floor as one of the league’s best perimeter shooting. Jazz coach Quin Snyder will be relying on Clarkson to add scoring and mobility to the rotation and Clarkson said he’s ready for anything.

“For me, it’s just going in there, doing what coach asks me to do,” he said. “If that’s coming off the bench, if that’s starting, whatever situation it is I feel like I’m ready. Coach has got a lot of trust in me, trust in a lot of guys, and I know everybody is going to step up and we’re going to head back to the game and try to get some wins.”

When Clarkson takes the floor on July 30 in the NBA’s first game back, the back of his jersey will read ‘Peace.’

The NBA and National Basketball Players Association agreed on several messages, including Peace, Black Lives Matter, Say Their Names, Vote, and Equality as a part of the league’s initiative to promote social justice.

According to a report from The Undefeated, nearly 300 players have chosen to put a message on the back of their jersey.

Clarkson said that he chose the word ‘Peace’ because he believes that’s the thing that in the end, people are hoping to find through protests and raising awareness of racial inequality and injustice.

“This fight, Black Lives Matter, the whole thing everybody is fighting for, at the end of the day is going to cause peace for all of us, being able to feel that equality in all areas and aspects of life,” Clarkson said. “That’s the reason that I picked that, that’s the message that I’m putting out.”